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Inception

A soft, white glow flickered in the corner of Harry’s eye as he stacked small, bronze bowls into a tower upon the book-heaped bench.

He ran a finger down the column. Twenty seven. 

The pale light faded.

‘What are you doing?’ Gabby called, stretching onto her tiptoes to peer over the edge of the silver bowl.

‘Tidying.’ He balanced another prototype on his tower and held his breath. ‘Still good.’

She giggled. ‘Strange, because it looks like you’re building a giant stack of spare things.’

‘Exactly.’ Harry picked up another one from the floor and huffed the dust off. ‘Look how much extra space I’ve made.’

Gabby vanished back into the pensieve and the soft, white glow sprang up again. ‘I’m nearly done.’

‘Testing time?’

‘Yes,’ she chirped.

‘That’s going to have to be me, you know.’ He grinned and scanned the piles of books, snatching up another, dented bronze bowl. ‘You can’t go in, because you’ve an unfair advantage, it won’t be a good test.’

‘Well you can’t go in.’

Harry balanced the battered prototype on the top of his tower. ‘Why not?’ He pulled his hand away and held his breath.

The stack swayed.

‘No…’

The bronze bowls crashed to the floor, bouncing through the heaps of books and off benches, ringing and clanging.

‘Tidying going well?’ Gabby asked.

Harry laughed. ‘There’s been a small setback.’ He slipped his wand from his sleeve and swept them into a neat series of stacks on the bench. ‘There we go. Now, about this testing?’

‘It probably would be a better test if you went in, but I’ve done it a lot, so I know what I’m looking for.’

‘Didn’t you have to go in just in case something went wrong, because Fleur was more likely to be able to fix it?’ he asked.

‘Fleur’s not here.’ Gabby craned her neck over the edge of the silver basin and the white glow faded. ‘Fleur’s at home, waiting for you to give her a good reason to set fire to you for putting a baby inside her.’

She was fairly keen for it not to be me that went in. 

‘That was when I was still scrambled.’ Harry slid his wand into his sleeve. ‘I’m fine now. And, well, if something goes wrong, you’re much more likely to be able to fix it from outside than me. And, worst case, you can just kill me, and I’ll come back.’

Gabby threw her arms over the edge and dragged herself up, squirming over the top and jumping to her feet, swiping silver hair off her face. ‘You’re the one who has to tell Fleur.’

He grinned. ‘It’ll be our little secret?’ 

‘Nuh uh. She’s super birdy right now, and if she’s birdy enough to start to worry about me in earnest, then the last thing you two need is a little secret between the two of us.’ She chewed her lip. ‘No matter how much you like to see her worked up.’

‘I suppose you’re probably right, a little bit of pecking now is better than a lot of fire later.’ Harry picked his way through the books and benches to the edge of the basin. ‘So, what do I do?’

‘Pick a memory and drop it in the basin.’ Gabby flashed him a mischievous grin. ‘Pick a good one, mon Amour.’

‘You’re not my bird-wife, I’m your mon Amour-in-law.’ He slipped his wand out and touched the tip to his temple. ‘Now… what shall I choose?’

‘Anything. Preferably something you’ll experience a variety of senses in.’ She snickered. ‘You know, one of your favourite memories of my sister might actually be quite a good test.’

‘You just want to voyeur again.’

A memory. Something to relive. He sighed. I know what it should be.

 Harry drew a wisp of silver mist from his temple and cast it into the basin, watching the shining cloud swell to fill the pensieve. ‘And now.’

‘In you get,’ Gabby murmured. ‘It will be strange. Fleur and I, we want to work on a way to see if we can strip away the awareness of the user, but we can’t find a way to do that without just obliviating everything out of them.’

‘Why?’ He pulled off his boots and stuck his toes over the edge. ‘Does it make a difference?’

‘It’s not really necessary,’ she said. ‘But at the moment, you know you’re in a memory, you can think through the experience, fight it. You’ll want to do that, but we wondered if we could stop it somehow, so you relive it exactly as if it were the first time.’

‘Sounds interesting.’ Harry tucked his wand away. ‘I guess I’ll understand better what you mean in a moment.’

Gabby nodded, a gleam of mischief in her eye. ‘Want me to push you in?’

‘I’m actually okay, thank you.’ He stole a quiet, deep breath and held it, shifting his weight over the edge and sliding down into the cold cloud.

Silver mist swirled ‘round him.

Two skeletal, winged horses snorted and sniffed at his hands, pulling the carriage closer to nuzzle at his right wrist with their noses. Their wide, dark eyes gazed up at him with soft approval. Cold brushed his fingers.

It’s not quite right. Harry glanced down at the thestral sniffing his hand, feeling the touch of its warm breath. Still a bit out.

A handful of students drifted past him, relieving him of his spectral company, and he spied, among a group of giggling girls, Romilda Vane.

Does she not know how to do buttons? Harry averted his eyes from her half-open top to scan the crowd. She’s fifteen-ish, she should be able to do buttons by now. He blinked. This is amazing. It’s everything, just as I remember it.

‘Waiting for someone, Harry?’ Romilda sidled across, batting her eyelashes. ‘You can come—’

‘Yes.’ Katie bounced over from amidst the crowd. ‘Me. Scram, little girlies.’

Harry’s heart wrenched, sinking into a dark, cold pit. Hello, Katie.

Romilda scowled, looking Katie up and down, then stalked away, her gang of girls in tow.

‘Check everything you eat or drink,’ Katie said, watching Romilda’s dark hair recede into the distance. ‘In fact, check it, then let me check it, too. I doubt you know as much about love potions as I do.’

Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘Expert, are you?’

She still likes you. Fleur’s words rose up from the back of his mind in a soft little whisper. She loves you, but she wants you to be happy. He smothered them under the pang beneath his ribs. I should’ve known long before Fleur told me. Long before I lost her.

‘Not like that.’ She dragged him toward the nearest carriage and released his arm. The heat of her grip touched his skin. ‘I don’t need a love potion for you, anyway. I’d just need to pretend to get stuck in a trick step.’

Harry snorted, the memories’ faint humour breaking on his grief like water on rocks. ‘What are you doing, Stuck-in-a-Step-Katie?’

Time enough to miss her again afterward. He crushed it all down. I should just enjoy this little dream while I can.

She laughed. ‘Come on. Before Romilda comes back and tries to jailbait you into Azkaban.’

Harry grimaced. ‘Thanks for that image.’ He paused with one foot in the carriage. ‘Not waiting for Nev?’

‘Do you want to find out how many more girls there are like Romilda? She’s not even the worst, either. Romilda, along with several others, thinks you’re attractive, and you’re famous, too, so they like that. There’re a handful of girls who read that Skeeter article about our relationship and took a much keener interest in you.’

Harry rolled his eyes and took a seat in the middle of one side. ‘One of them was probably you.’ He shot her a grin. ‘Put those enchanted handcuffs away, I’m not into being tied up.’

‘I notice you left out tying someone else up…’ Katie giggled. ‘And remind me which one of us was seduced by an older girl at a tender age and led astray?’ She dropped in beside him and leant against his side. ‘Although I guess that was partly me…’

‘Mostly you.’ Harry snorted, then sighed as the levity drained away. ‘I’m sorry about our last visit, we were ambushed by Weasleys and things got a bit heated.’

‘I saw.’ Katie smirked. ‘You still owe us money. Well, Frenchie does.’

Harry fished through his pockets but found no coins. ‘Remind me how much in a bit and I’ll pay you back.’

She winked. ‘You don’t have to pay me back with money, Harry.’

‘We would die horribly,’ he said. ‘Fleur is very much the jealous type.’

‘And I bet you love that.’ Katie nudged his shoulder a couple of times and winked. ‘Wind her up a little bit, watch her get all pouty, flustered and possessive, then take advantage.’

‘I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind from time to time,’ Harry admitted. ‘I’m also fairly sure Fleur likes it too.’

Katie wriggled about on her seat and leant against his shoulder to stare out across the Black Lake, a faint smile on her lips.

Harry’s stomach twisted itself up in knots. Maybe Fleur was right. He tore his eyes away from the soft small smile on Katie’s face and watched the castle grow larger until the carriage rolled up before the entrance. She was right. And I let them take Katie away before she ever had the chance to be happy.

The world dissolved into silver mist, cascading to his feet and pooling in the silver basin about his toes until it faded like smoke in the breeze.

Gabby stared down at him from the top of the pensieve, wiggling her toes in her white socks. ‘How was Heiress Greengrass?’ She grinned. ‘Fun?’

A faint smile curved Harry’s lips. ‘I miss her a lot.’

The humour faded from Gabby’s face. ‘Why did you choose a memory of Katie?’

‘Who says I did?’ he replied, raising one eyebrow.

She touched her fingertips to her chest. ‘I felt it.’ Gabby’s lips twisted. ‘It might not have been her, I suppose. It could have been about Fleur, but from before. Only, I don’t think you would miss her so sorely as I felt, not knowing it was a memory.’

‘It was Katie,’ he murmured. ‘I wanted her back, just for a moment. Your pensieve is amazing, it was like I was back there for real, only a little out every now and again.’

‘It’s still just a memory.’ Gabby crooked a finger at him. ‘Come on. Out.’

‘Unless you find a way to strip that away.’ Harry apparated up beside her. ‘But I know, I just — I am living my dream with Fleur. And Katie… hers didn’t come true.’

‘Fleur never really talked about her much,’ Gabby said. ‘Not after. She said losing her really hurt you, more than anything else she’d seen.’

‘Katie was my best friend.’ He sighed. ‘She was always there for me, for me, not for who everyone thought I was or should be, and she really loved me. The only other person who’s loved me like that is Fleur.’ Harry caught her eye. ‘And you, I guess.’

Gabby pursed her lips. ‘That explains why Fleur never talked about her, even when she talked about everything else.’

‘It does?’ he asked. ‘Why?’

‘You might not have noticed, but Fleur’s quite possessive.’

Harry feigned a frown. ‘You know, I hadn’t noticed any sign of it, but now you say that, I think you might be right.’

Gabby laughed. ‘You remember how she reacted to the idea of another pretty, talented, blonde, blue-eyed witch? She enticed you into sex while roleplaying as her.’

‘The more I think about her doing that, the more complicated it gets.’

‘I did say it’s probably not a good idea to do it again.’ Gabby hummed. ‘I think she’s okay, though, beyond being all chubby and extra-birdy. Daphne Greengrass was a surprise, but one she’s, well, made her own.’ She sniggered. ‘You’re not going to ever think about Daphne Greengrass without thinking about Fleur now.’

‘Katie’s not the same.’ Harry’s gut knotted, flashing cold as ice. ‘I’m not doing anything like that with her pretending to be Katie.’

‘No. She’s different.’ Gabby’s grey eyes bored into him. ‘Because you loved her. Fleur must hate that.’

‘She…’ Harry’s tongue stilled, a flash of Bill Weasley beneath blue umbrellas snatching the words from it. ‘She really must. I would.’

‘If you ever need reassurance that my sister loves you, the fact she never says a bad word about Katie is all the proof you need,’ Gabby whispered. ‘Fleur must hate not having all your heart, no matter how small a piece it was that Katie claimed, but she lets her memory keep it.’

‘I don’t need reassurance.’ Harry raised his glowing wedding band up on the slim silver chain. ‘And It’s not the same love, I didn’t—’

The door burst open. 

Grise thrust out a smooth piece of wood. ‘Violette, we have trouble.’

A jolt of cold rushed through his veins. ‘Le Cancrelat?’ He let the glowing silver ring slide back beneath his clothes.

‘Non.’ Grise waved the piece of wood. ‘The United States.’

‘In the Caribbean?’ Harry eyed the portkey as he pulled his boots back on. ‘I’m fairly sure I mentioned not being keen on a long holiday there.’

Gabby nodded. ‘He needs to be here.’

‘It’s not a long trip.’ Grise’s pink eyes hardened. ‘It seems Ginevra Weasley has completely driven US forces from Cuba, Puerto Rico or Haiti. They have been discovered attempting to use one of our protectorates as a base instead of falling back to their own territory, other parts of the Free Magical States of the Caribbean or the Free Principalities of Mexico.’

‘Those principalities are the former Spanish places, right?’ Harry asked.

‘Yes,’ Grise said. ‘They are another set of small states under the protection of the US.’ He waved a hand. ‘But they are not relevant right now. The local leaders have asked the Americans to leave, but they have not. France does not want to make this an official incident, so someone unofficial but still capable of following through on our threats that they leave needs to go.’

‘What about Isobel, Celine and Colette?’ Harry asked.

‘Busy. And sending auror captains, let alone our most famous and best, is not very unofficial.’ 

‘Fine.’ He sighed and strode through the books. ‘But if I get sunburnt, I’m going to be upset.’

‘Merci, Violette.’ Grise raised the portkey. ‘This will take you to an island in the Atlantic, show them the ring when you get there. A string of portkeys will take you on from there across our chain of islands to Sint Maarten. The Americans are to leave French protected soil, if they refuse to leave peacefully… Tensions are too high to risk an incident; make them disappear and let the British take the blame.’

‘Do we know anything useful?’

‘The auror captain is a wizard called Grant Hardsworth.’ Grise pressed the portkey into Harry’s hand. ‘Grenouille is the word.’

Harry turned to Gabby. ‘Are you okay telling her, or would you rather I did it when I get back?’

She hummed. ‘I will tell her about the pensieve test, you tell her about this. We’ll both get set on fire that way, so it’s fair.’

‘It’s a deal.’ He stuck out his hand.

Gabby giggled and shook it. ‘Deal.’ Her grip tightened. ‘Be careful, mon Amour-in-law.’

‘I’m always careful.’ Harry eased his fingers free and stepped back. ‘Grenouille.’

The world lurched sideways and he stumbled into a small stone grotto surrounding a small fountain. A rack of bronze discs hung on the wall beside a map of the Atlantic, glimmering with faint magic.

‘Papers?’ A short, brown-eyed man stuck his head in through a small window beside the map. ‘And your name and business.’

Harry strode over and held up his hand.

The wizard sucked in a sharp breath through his teeth. ‘Top rack. Second in from the right. The word’s written on it.’

Harry twisted on his heel and snatched the bronze disc off the wall. ‘Pamplemousse.’

The grotto jerked forward and he staggered into another identical one. Harry glanced around, tossing the portkey into a basket of used ones.

A blonde witch looked up from the far side of the fountain. ‘Pap—’

He held up the ring.

‘Third on the top row,’ she said, biting at her lip. ‘Bon courage.’

‘Merci,’ Harry murmured, plucking another portkey off the wall. ‘Patate.’

Who chooses these words? They’re terrible. 

The grotto twisted to his right and he put one foot into cold water. Harry pulled his leg out of the fountain with a sigh, sliding his wand from his sleeve to dry his leg and sending the portkey floating across into the used box.

‘Sorry about that, monsieur.’ A plump wizard trundled into the grotto. ‘It only seems to happen if you come from one way, but I’m not sure how to stop it myself.’

‘I’ll live.’ Harry held up his hand and tapped the purple spiral with the tip of his wand. ‘Where next?’

The colour drained out of the wizard’s face. ‘Very top left,’ he squeaked. ‘I — er — I hope it goes well.’

‘I’m not too fussed,’ Harry replied, grabbing the portkey and flipping it over to read the word etched into the back. ‘As long as I’m back home soon. Choux.’

The grotto wrenched sideways and he stumbled into a small, unadorned marble hall. Bright sunlight streamed in through the windows onto the white walls, stabbing at his eyes.

‘Bienvenue.’ A tall wizard stood up from a bench on the far wall. ‘You are Violette, yes?’

‘Yes.’ Harry shook out his sleeve. ‘You don’t sound very American.’

The wizard grunted. ‘I am not. I am the mayor of Sint Maarten.’ He pulled his wand out of the inside of his jacket. ‘The Americans are this way, Monsieur Violette.’

‘I’ve never actually met anyone from the United States before.’ Harry trailed him down the marble hall and out into the bright sun.

A thick heat washed over him, stifling as summer nights in the cupboard under the stairs. A cluster of brown-leaved palms rose from a tumble of shrub-shrouded rocks before a sparkling sapphire sea. 

‘This way,’ the mayor said, winding between the palm trunks and small-leaved shrubs. ‘There are half a dozen of them…’

‘Do you know anything about them?’ Harry asked.

‘They’re very American.’

I’m not sure what that means. He sighed and swiped sweat off his forehead. I suppose I’ll find out.

Grey-robed aurors stood in the shade of a cluster of palms where the rocks gave way to gentle waves. The tallest of them stepped forward, straightening the blue, red, and white striped edge of his jacket.

‘Grant Hardsworth.’ He swept a long, dark-blonde fringe off his face to reveal sharp, brown eyes and a bright grin. ‘Auror captain.’

‘Violette,’ Harry said. ‘You seem to be lost, Grant. This is the only part of the Caribbean you absolutely should not be in.’

Grant’s grin faded. ‘We are not enemies. We’re only here to give you the freedom to make your own choices.’

‘Violette is not from Sint Maarten,’ the mayor said. ‘He has come from France.’

‘I see.’ Grant squared his shoulders. ‘So he’s here to try and make sure France’s imperialism clings on a little longer in the face of progress.’

Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘I’m here to tell you to leave, or, if you don’t listen, to make you.’

‘By yourself.’

‘If France needed to send anyone else, they would have,’ he replied.

Grant snorted. ‘You Europeans, you still think it’s two hundred years ago. Your time is done. Step aside with some grace.’

‘Step aside for what?’ the mayor demanded. ‘So you can use us as puppets? We know what happened to the allies you forced to war. Britain crushed them. We could all but see the smoke from here. Now you’re here to spill more blood for national greed and you want it to be our blood.’

‘I’m here to set you free!’ Grant took a deep breath. ‘I’m not a diplomat, so I’ll speak plainly. Britain and France are ass-backwards nations led by old corrupt families who’ve been in power for a thousand years. All they’ve given the world in the last century is Grindelwald and Voldemort. We threw off their yoke two hundred years ago. We helped others do the same where we could. It’s your turn. Let us help you into a more progressive age.’

‘Do you really believe that?’ Harry asked. ‘You provoked this conflict, by all accounts but your own.’

Grant blinked. ‘Course I do. Look at our country, it’s better in every way. We’re far bigger than Britain or any other magical nation and we’re a diverse, democratic mix of magical cultures and states, not a bunch of bowler hat-wearing asshole aristocrats.’

Naive. Harry hid a frown and dabbed sweat off his face. But he’s Ginny’s problem. Not mine.

He glanced at the mayor. ‘Sint Maarten is under the protection of France. It seems the people would prefer to stay under the protection of France.’

‘Because they’re afraid of France!’ Grant snorted. ‘They know France won’t let them go peacefully.’

The mayor scoffed. ‘This is the first time I’ve spoken to anyone in France in ten years. We have France’s protection, that’s all. We aren’t slaves to Paris. This isn’t two hundred years ago, since the Statute of Secrecy and the ICW were formed, there’s been nothing here but peace.’

‘Have you brought much freedom and peace, Grant?’ Harry asked, tugging his robes away from where they stuck to the sweat on his back. ‘Have you brought any?’

‘Not as much as I hoped, but I’ve at least prevented Britain from managing to provoke a full war.’ Grant clenched his jaw. ‘However, if I fail, they’ll send Tarbeck out here instead. She won’t be able to stop Britain from getting their war. She wants that war. I’m just here to help people liberate themselves.’

‘Sounds like Tarbeck’s not so sold on freedom and peace,’ Harry quipped. ‘It almost sounds like she’s out here for glory and hoping to expand your nation’s power.’

Grant glowered. ‘Tarbeck’s a piece of work.’

Harry pointed a finger at the rocks beneath their feet. ‘This is French-protected soil. If we allow you to use it, France will be dragged into conflict. We don’t want to be dragged in.’

‘So don’t tell anybody,’ Grant said. ‘We’ll be subtle. They won’t know we’re here.’

‘It’s not worth the risk,’ the mayor said. ‘We side with you and Ginevra Weasley may come here and destroy everything we have. Just how she razed the homes of the allies you pressured and deceived into picking a fight with British protectorates.’

This is a stupid debate. Sweat trickled down the underside of Harry’s arm. I don’t care why they’re fighting, they’re still not doing it here.

‘Leave.’ He slid his wand from his sleeve.

Grant tensed. ‘I thought we were gonna talk.’

‘We have,’ Harry said. ‘And now you’re leaving. If you stay, it will be a declaration of war. My response will be proportional.’

Grant drew himself up. ‘Very well. I tried.’ He turned to the mayor. ‘I hope you don’t regret this.’

‘Do you need a portkey?’ Harry asked.

‘No.’ Grant twisted on his heel. ‘We’re leaving, boys,’ he barked. ‘Back to base.’

A dull grumble rose from the grey-jacketed aurors as they staggered to their feet, vanishing in a series of loud cracks. Grant shot one last long look over his shoulder and disappeared with a deafening pop.

The mayor sagged. ‘Good bluff, Violette.’

‘I wasn’t bluffing.’ Harry slid his wand away. ‘I was told to convince them to leave, or to make them disappear. Whichever option kept Sint Maarten and France from getting sucked into a war.’

‘You think you could have beaten the entire squad.’

‘It might have gotten a little dicey,’ Harry replied. ‘But probably.’

‘Are you staying long?’ The mayor shuffled his feet, staring out at the sea. ‘If the Americans are going to keep fighting against the British, things might get out of control. It would be good to have someone here who can protect us.’

‘I am going back home to France.’ Harry swiped sweat from his face with a grimace and started back along the path. ‘Before I get sunburnt or just outright melt.’

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